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By Khahlia Sanders
Is it possible to be a Black woman academic and live? I find myself asking this question every time I visit the university that I attend. Observing the small number of Black women graduate students, faculty, and administrators on my campus, I find myself pessimistic about answering this question. How can I answer this question when I see Black women STILL underrepresented, devalued, and dismissed? Nevertheless, there is something inside of me that continues to push me forward. Witnessing all of this, I remain hopeful and plan to continue upholding a wellness plan of sorts—prior to applying for graduation and even now.
So, what does wellness feel like? For me, it feels like having clarity about why I decided to pursue a doctorate degree and a possible future in academia. Before I applied to graduate school, I asked myself, Why enter academia? Articulating a response to this question was necessary for self-care. One night as I worked on the many drafts of my personal statement for graduate school, I had a discussion with myself (a practice of self-care) about why I wanted to embark upon this journey. I read about a few experiences in “Telling Histories: Black Women in the Ivory Tower,” edited by Deborah Gray White, and I took notes on what I did not want to encounter. Several talks later, with alumni of my graduate program and Black women I held in high esteem I decided that my journey needed to be different.
How could it be? And, what needed to be eliminated so that I could prosper and continue to progress in my program? After months of contemplation, I received the clarity I needed. What I knew for sure was that this journey would not be a competition for me; this journey would not be about climbing a “social ladder.” This journey could not be about learning behaviors that go against who I know myself to be and that could possibly have me working against myself. No. I decided that my journey would be about of what I could prove to myself academically, how could I research my interests in ways that served my spirit, and what skills I could acquire to take back into my own community and other spaces that I would enter.
Being clear about what this journey would be for me meant that I could begin to chart my path in academia, and how I could and would enter and exit it, well and whole. Wellness feels like knowing that I am limitless. That is, the “ivory tower” will neither control nor predict how I will flourish after I complete my program. Yes, I hope to teach at the community college and university levels, however, that’s not the end of my story. There’s more to do.
This journey is a challenge. To be sure, I chose it. However, I plan to complete it on my own terms. And yes, I know there’s a high price to pay for this—but freedom has never been free. Still, I’ve set my own pace.
“[Am I] sure [I] want to be well?” Yes. I. Am. I will be well. I love me.
Khahlia Sanders is a doctoral student at a Predominately White Institution in the Midwest. Her research interests include feminist and critical pedagogies, qualitative research methodologies, and teacher professional development. She has taught for over 5 years in high school and non-profit organizations in her community. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you ever need to reach out if and when it gets too rough in academia.